- my column: Conversations with Russians (Russia Beyond)
- my book: The King of FU (Nada Blank Press)
- a story: Kids These Days (Defenestration)
- an essay: The Massage That Made Me Betray My Country (Human Parts)
Choose your favorite:
—Who are you?
My name is Benjamin Davis. I am a fictional character created by a guy named Ben who wrote a book called, The King of FU, and writes a column for Russia Beyond. He also co-founded a sex-positive magazine (oo-la-la) called Sexography and is the Managing Editor of a travel magazine (…vroom-vroom?) called ONEPIN.
Anyway, he’s pretty neat.
He writes magical realism memoir—which isn’t a thing. But, he wants it to be a thing. In the meantime, he writes idk…stuff?
—Brilliant. So, when did you start writing?
I don’t write. Ben does.
—Sure, k—when did he start writing?
Sounds like you just want to talk to him.
—Yeah, I kinda do.
Right—sure, I’ll get him, buttlicker.
Nothing. Getting him…ahem…Yo.
—Let’s not let this joke go on longer than it needs to, hey?
Yeah, right—hey just want to say I’m sorry he called you a buttlicker—you know licking butts is just fine, I run a sex-positive magazine called Sexography so we go in for that kind of stuff.
—Hey man, we’re gonna put your bio in the beginning, so you don’t need to plug.
Ah, sorry—cool, cool. So, what do you want to know?
—The other guy said you write something called magical realism memoir? What is that about?
Ah, yeah so, I write about my life and reality, but with magical realism elements. Sort of—so, like you know when you were a kid and you would stare out the window on long car rides and watch the running man?
—The running man?
Yeah, like the guy who runs along next to the car and jumps on the guard rails and telephone poles and stuff and sometimes he waves?
—No, but sure.
Well, with my writing, I write as though that man is real. Not just him, but all of my imagination. Mostly because, in life, that’s how I think. Especially when I am reading folklore and fairy tales, the characters come to life in my head and when I talk to people or go places I start to feel like there are a lot of weird things going on beneath the surface. So rather than try to write about that feeling of displacement and confusion, I interpret and present situations with how my brain sees them in relation to folklore and metaphors and whatnot. I believe that this warping of reality actually clarifies the emotional impact and nuance of situations.
—Fascinating. Sounds like you’re going to die unsuccessful and broke.
I’d say so, but it is what I do, and it makes sense to me. I did this project called Flash-365 where I wrote these types of stories and a lot of people seemed to like that, so…
Yeah, it had like a lot of followers and won some awards.
—Cool, I jus–
I was invited to do a bunch of readings, and yeah – my book was a magical realism memoir as well, and that has won some awards and got pretty good reviews, too. So, maybe people just need to give it a chance.
—Yeah man, everyone gets it. Let’s move on. Our readers would like to know when you started writing.
I tried to write my first story when I was five. My parents were in therapy after a recent separation. My brother and I were in therapy for an ongoing and messy divorce of our own that has never seemed to stick.
The therapist worked out of her house down the road from the decaying liquor store that I’d like to think was called “Death’s Door” or “Sloppage” (which are two names I think liquor stores should be called, for different reasons) but, being central Massachusetts, it was probably called something like “Jim’s” or “Tony’s” or “Chuck’s.”
—Wait, what…why sloppage?
Why not? Shush.
Anyway, that therapist was a frump – not one of those sexy frumps like you might’ve seen on TV. A moldy old one. She told us we should spend one hour a week with each parent, writing a story (it was the 90s and therapists could say literally whatever-the-fuck they want to a middle-class white family without fearing a bad Yelp review.)
And so, we did. And I do not remember the story except that it had something to do with a wizard and a hole. I do not remember a single time where we actually sat down to write it. Still, I remember that if we had, I would have laid half-curled in the gullet of my parents’ king-sized bed and felt like a beetle. I would have drawn a picture inspired by the story – an elf, probably. I was always drawing elves.
Something about them turned my child-brain on.
—Gross. What else turns you o—I mean, inspires you?
I used to imagine fish that could talk, people that had fish mouths, and mouths that said things they never said – but damn – I wished they would say, “Come save the world,” or “You’re a wizard, Harry.” But, not Harry cause, you know, my name isn’t Harry-
Yeah, I mean maybe I should change it to Harry. That’d be a good pen name. I should get a pen name because – well – did you know that Ben Davis is a clothing company, an apple, a high school, the first ever black pilot and, like, a gazillion semi-famous people?
—I did not know that.
Yeah, so google is not my friend.
Right, anyway, you’ll find my stories are often absurd and strange, disconnected from reality—which is all well and good; reality is gross and dirty and loud, and it hurts people.
And as to the residents? Don’t get me started.
—So, what the hell, exactly, do you write about?
As I said, I am fond of magical realism. Also, whimsy and humor, and death. I like to believe that everything that I’ve ever known and been sure of in the world is a complete and utter lie.
I would be brought to joyous tears to discover my mother has just been fattening me up for 30 years to cook me into a pie. I want my father to be my uncle, who murdered my father in a dirty plot that had something to do with love and too much whiskey and regret. I ache to wake up in the middle of the night and be scared out of my mind by something other than an oddly shaped hanging shirt.
I was one of those kids who watched those movies where the young magical hero would agonize over having to leave his family, and I would cry, “YOU IDIOT!” (It’s not that I didn’t love my family – it is just that there was too much love. It was easy to love them the way it is easy to enjoy a popcorn-action-flick. There are bumps, you gasp on occasion, and there is outrageous drama, but it is unleavened drama that never amounts to anything and so you know it will be all puppies in the end.)
People would tell me that when I grew up, and friends and family started dying, I would understand. But I have grown; life is picking people off left and right with guns and ropes and the biggie, CANCER, and still I think, Can I leave this world yet? Isn’t some mysterious villain tracking me? Don’t I have to hide out with some doomed mentor and learn some mysterious and ancient craft? Surely, surely.
—Is there a point coming up anytime soon?
Yes! What I mean by all of this is that my writing is meant to entertain. My aim is not to teach a life lesson, imitate the tragedies of the world, or solve anyone’s problems. If I do my job right, they might make you laugh or cry or think or say, “Hmm,” “Hah,” or even, maybe, “Oh dear.”
And as for the nitty-gritty… I like words like nitty-gritty and finicky, wonky, and other funky words not ending in ee. I like parentheses—and dashes—simply for effect. (Don’t tell Dreyer.) I don’t know how to use them. I throw them around a page mostly because of how it looks rather than a should-use, shouldn’t-use debate.
—I’m starting to understand why no one has bought your latest manuscript.
Gee, thanks – I end up with comments from editors like, “These don’t need to be here,” “What is this?” “Why not a comma?” My favorite one (after I’d strangled three words between two semi-colons) just said “Vonnegut rule.” But mostly they don’t say anything and quietly work around, picking up my mess like a parent cleaning the mouth of a toddler after they’ve gone six rounds with a birthday cake, blind drunk.
—This is a long point…
I’M GETTING THERE!
I have read and reread dozens of books on writing and grammar and still, it’s not in my blood. Everytime I read Elements of Style, I spend the whole time thinking about how much “Strunk” sounds like onomatopoeia for getting strunk on the head by an uncharacteristically useful little book.
Maybe I am biased by my poor grammar, but I believe editors have never gotten enough credit, nor will ever get enough credit for what they do to make writing happen for one stupid reason: They just don’t kill themselves enough. (And, if they do, they’re not nearly as sexy about it.) I believe that “books on writing” that refuse to acknowledge this point should be thrown into the pit of despair to be eaten by lions and tigers and bears (that’s two allusions in one, motherfuckers).
[Oh, hey, just want to butt in here]
—Who are you?
[I’m future Ben]
—Oh, for fucksake.
[Nice, man. Hey just wanted to say I’ve spent a lot more time studying grammer lately. Not so willy-nilly with it now. Just saying. Right, well, that’s it, back to the interview.]
When I read someone or something I like and then write the next day, I find myself mimicking their style like Silly Putty on newspaper. I hate to waste words (unless they are truly stunning words) in the same way I hate when people talk to me for too long about nothing; nothing includes the woods, the wallpaper, whether an animal’s fur is coarse or soft, and a great many other things I don’t have enough time or words to name.
—Man, this has been like six different points.
I like short sentences. And I like long sentences when there are a great number of ‘ands’ and vivid descriptions and no commas and your breath gets short as you read it and you hope and hope and hope that a fucking point gets made.
This is a rare thing.
Also… I hate ellipses.
—Womp womp, so clever. Why the hell do you do this writing thing anyway?
I write because cats can’t. I write for the same reason that musicians play, mathematicians add (I presume), and psychopaths murder people. I write because really, what the fuck else am I supposed to do with all of this?
—Anything else I should care about?
You mean other than global warming?
All right. Yeah, here are two:
- I like to collaborate with artists. I think it makes writing better. Better for the same reason chocolate bars are better with nuts, pizza is better with toppings, and coffee is better with at least a little cream. If you don’t agree, you are likely a plain-chocolate-chomping, cheese-only-pizza-eating, black-coffee-drinking sociopath. Stories without art feel to me like a woman without eyes. So, if you are an artist looking for work, please contact me.
- Read people I read. I believe the greatest living fiction writers are Aimee Bender, Kevin Wilson, Etgar Keret, and Ludmila Petrushevskaya. If you read them you’ll understand far more about me and my work than even if you read my work because you’ll see, very clearly, what I’m aiming at. Also, read fairy tales and folklore as much as you possibly can.
—I’m feeling charitable. Where can I find your work?
Ah, for that you’ll have to talk to Benjamin Davis.
—Oh, it’s okay, nevermi—
What do you need, buttlicker?
—Lovely. I just wanted to know where to find Ben’s work.
Ah, sure. You can have a look at his writing menu.
—I can’t imagine why, but I feel like I want to give you some money. Can I do that?
Absolutely. Money is like garlic aioli…
—*sigh* I’ll bite, why?
It makes everything better!
—That’s not even a joke; that’s just true.
Money isn’t a joke.
And Ben is always happy for support since his dreams are on a strict diet of money and tears. And, he is all out of tears. So, support him on Patreon!
By donating there, your money will go to pay the artists he works with on projects like The Uninvited Guests!
Or, if you’re more the one-off donation type, you can buy him a coffee
*profile image by Lady Prozac